Disbarred and disgraced Los Angeles celebrity lawyer Tom Girardi has been indicted in Chicago on charges of stealing $3 million from clients who lost family members in the 2018 Lion Air crash.
The charges mark the latest in a string of legal disasters for a powerful player who rubbed elbows with politicians and celebrities as one of the nation’s most prominent plaintiff’s lawyers, known for winning settlements such as the one portrayed in the movie “Erin Brockovich.”
U.S. prosecutors say Girardi, another lawyer and his firm’s accounting chief misappropriated settlement funds intended for five clients who reached settlements with Boeing, makers of the 737 Max operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air that crashed into the Java Sea on Oct. 29, 2018 — killing 189 people.
“The substantial misappropriation alleged in this indictment compounded the grief and anguish of the clients who lost loved ones in the Lion Air crash,” said John Lausch, the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois. “Attorneys who violate the trust of their clients and breach a fiduciary duty that is paramount to the practice of law must be held accountable.”
Girardi, who once played a supporting role on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” which starred his now ex-wife Erika Jayne, was disbarred last summer for siphoning funds intended for clients. His firm Girardi Keese is bankrupt and he’s said to be suffering from dementia, according to a court conservatorship.
[ ‘The Housewife and the Hustler’ review: More primer than analysis, the documentary examines the legal and financial problems of Erika and Tom Girardi ]
A Chicago law firm filed a racketeering lawsuit last year alleging that Girardi and his associates essentially ran a Ponzi scheme, siphoning off $100 million from their clients, attorneys they worked with and others.
“The real story is one that seems like a tale out of a John Grisham novel: Girardi Keese was little more than a criminal enterprise, disguised as a law firm,” according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles by Edelson, the Chicago law firm. “Indeed, the Girardi Keese firm operated what we now know was the largest criminal racketeering enterprise in the history of plaintiffs’ law.”
Girardi and another attorney, David Lira, face eight charges of wire fraud and four counts of criminal contempt of court, Lausch’s office said in a statement.
The law firm’s head of accounting and finance, Christopher Kamon, faces the same charges.
Arraignments in federal court have not been scheduled yet.
Online court records do not indicate whether Girardi or the other two men have attorneys in the case.